Sunday, July 14, 2013

July 14

This was Gerald R."Jerry" Ford's high school graduation picture,
taken in Grand Rapids, Michigan,  43 years before he'd become
U.S. President No. 38.  Wasn't he dreamy? 

"The Constitution is the bedrock of all our freedoms; guard and cherish it; keep honor and order in your own house; and the republic will endure." Gerald R. Ford (July 14, 1913 ~ Dec. 26, 2006)

  So, it happens that a decent man and one of our nation's presidents came into the world one hundred years ago today. Baby Leslie Lynch King Jr. was born in Omaha, Nebraska, little knowing that he'd later be named after Gerald R. Ford, the man baby Leslie's mom married a few years later, having escaped her abusive husband, bless her heart and courage.   Much less that a disgraced president would peg him for the vacated VP spot after Spiro Agnew's downfall. Or that he'd have to step into the Big Job himself, after Richard Nixon's own disgrace and downfall?  

Or did baby Jerry know, as all babies do ever so much more than they can articulate by way of their fresh, immature mechanisms? Earlier this evening I read a short story by Muriel Spark that got me to thinking. In it she writes, "...babies, in their waking hours, know everything that is going on everywhere in the world...."   I had considered that babies come into the world, still perfectly aware of the language spoken in Heaven or whatever realm they've just left. Unable to speak it. Forgotten it by the time they can form words.  

Anyway, the day poor, valiant Mrs. King's baby was born, I'd be willing to bet that grand parades were going on in Paris, being as it was Bastille Day. 

  Being as it was the 124th anniversary of the day when crowds of outraged Parisians, fed up with the sordid chasm between haves and have nots and their heedless, corrupt government, launched the uncivil uprising that sparked the French Revolution.  The 28th U.S. President was newly inaugurated and things were tough and rowdy in the Balkans.  And of course the troubles there and many an elsewhere were laying the groundwork for the assassination in Sarajevo less than a year later that'd spark the great and terrible war, thanks to gaggles of bullheaded diplomats and jealous, pissy monarchs, unwilling to compromise their nationalistic, i.e. partisan views. That'd lead to another war even worse, even more deadly. In 1942, young Jerry Ford of Michigan signed up to serve in it, in the U.S. Navy. 

Gerald Ford didn't run for the presidency. Scandalous twists of fate and a Constitutional crisis plopped him into it, but he stood up the job with decency, even going so far as to get himself in some serious soup by pardoning his tormented, resentful predecessor, wiping out the legal trouble Nixon had gotten himself into with all his conniving. And why? For the sake of national healing, as Ford saw it. For the common good - what a concept. 


Thursday, July 4, 2013

Long Live the Republic

So, here we are, Citizens, our experiment in self-governance has made it 237 years. That's how long it has been since those warm, tense gents, all properly clad in natural fibers, signed off on the earnestly edited wording of their Declaration of Independence.  More than once over the years I've written - and illustrated - done my best to capture this critical, pivotal time/space intersection at July 4, 1776/ Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.
What wouldn't I give for a time machine - if only to witness
this room, those delegates, in that nervous summer of 1776
Most memorably, in The Revolutionary John Adams. 

But too, in my first book about the Adamses of Braintree, Young John QuincyThomas Jefferson,  George Washington, and The Remarkable Benjamin Franklin. All of these, but for my regrettably out-of-print book about young JQA,  were done in a very happy, industrious season of work with the National Geographic. Currently, I'm yet again envisioning the stormy birth of our revolutionary republic. More specifically, how our national flag came about, in a book, tentatively titled A New Constellation: FLAGS and the Star Spangled Banner. It will be set in a history of flags, ending with Francis Scott Key's heartfelt poem, written after he'd witnessed the British bombardment of Baltimore's Fort McHenryHow does this book differ from my earlier works? For one thing, it will be published by Albert Whitman. They published my most recent book, that being about a most stubborn, idealistic patriot, trouser-wearing dress reformer,and Medal of Honor, Dr. Mary Edwards Walker.  Really, I generally do historical books because such subjects suit my realistic way of drawing and painting AND I love the research. The Finding Out. Which has involved traveling to such places as the Adamses' homes, to Mount Vernon, Monticello, and Independence hall. The hardest part about doing these books has been distilling down all of the informations to the limited word count required for a proper picture book. Gotta leave room for the pictures, right? 

I write this in honor of the Day, this Glorious Fourth, but also in answer to questions posed by my author friend, Leslie J. Wyatt. Such as What would I like to try as a writer that I haven't yet? As a matter of fact, I've been doing just that lately: revising and revising a contemporary, middle-grade fantasy novel. I'll keep you posted. I would like to write a bestseller!  God knows I've tried that more than once, but, as has been said, many are called. Few are chosen.  And What scares me? What scares all too many of us in this here 'land of the free, this home of the brave: That the grand legislative machine conceived by those long-gone founders will fail in its ability to govern the nation, thanks to our all too partisan and divided land. In the weeks to come, do be watching for other writers, the gifted Sharon Mayhew, for instance, as they ponder Leslie's questions.

Long live the Republic! 
"I am well aware of the Toil and Blood and Treasure, that it will cost Us to maintain this Declaration, and support and defend these States. Yet through all the Gloom I can see the Rays of ravishing Light and Glory. I can see that the End is more than worth all the Means. And that Posterity will triumph in that Days Transaction, even although We should rue it, which I trust in God We shall not."  John Adams, July 3, 1776

Sunday, February 10, 2013

BLACK HISTORY MONTH No. 10: 12 Things to Know About Booker T. Washington

     So, of course I'd heard about Booker Tliaferro Washington. In school. Along the way. But I'd never really read about him until I was working, first, on a book about Theodore Roosevelt, and then on my book about Geo. Washington Carver a few years ago.  Booker T. W. is something of anachronism these days, even categorized, I'd say most unfairly, as an Uncle Tom.

"I have learned that success
 is to be measured not so much 
by the position that one has reached in life 
as by the obstacles which he has had to overcome 
while trying to succeed."

:Character is power."

"Few things can help an individual 
more than to place responsibility on him, 
and to let him know that you trust him."

Booker T. Washington

1.  Why should Americans know about him?  Because Mr. Washington, who began his life in slavery, became an educator, speaker, and author of great significance at a critical time in our nation's history, at the turn of the 19th and 20th centuries.  Decades after the Civil War, racism was still rampant in America. Plenty of white citizens, particularly in what had been the Old south were doing their best, i.e. worst to keep former slaves and their children ground underfoot. How? With violence and intimidation. Keeping poor people down. Written and unwritten laws, together known as Jim Crow.

2. As was the case with Frederick Douglass and many another African American of this era, BTW's mother was enslaved. His father was a white man, a wealthy farmer or "planter" as such was known in Virginia, where BTW was born. April 5, 1856.

3. Every sort of hard, rotten sort of physical labor was the way BTW was able to work his way through African American schools, present-day Hampton University. and Virginia Union University.

4. Armed with this education, 25-year-old BTW became head of a leaky, shabby set of buildings near Tuskegee, Alabama.  It would be his job, his and his determined African American students, to turn those worn out buildings into a SCHOOL.     Which they did. 

5. One of BTW's  best known hires?  That'd be Geo. W. Carver, the "Peanut Wizard," the "Sage of Tuskegee." In 1896.  A year after the big speech BTW made in Atlanta, the speech that won him so much praise and scorn.

6. It was known as the Atlanta Exposition Speech or, by some, such as W.E.B. Du Bois, as the 'Atlanta Compromise.  Booker T. Washington delivered this address to a mostly white audience in Sept 1895.  Here is BTW's recounting of it, from his 1901 memoir, Up From Slavery.  It's a hard listen from a modern p.o.v.  In 1895, the speech made him a national popular sensation.  

He called for African Americans to be hired [rather than the immigrants who were pouring into the U.S. just then] as the humble, loyal, and hard-working people they were - who should passively accept segregation. Blacks & whites could exist together, as separate fingers on one hand.

7. BTW's pragmatic p.o.v. was highly necessary, considering all of the money he was constantly trying to raise, considering all of the favor he was actively courting from influential people, particularly white ones, ever leery of being asked to move too far or too fast from the status quo.

8. BTW was so popular that President Theodore Roosevelt invited him to dine with him at the White House. I mean, think of it: In the entire history of the slave-built place, black people were the ones who cooked and served meals and washed up afterwards.  Only fitting that a significant educator should be asked to visit with the President - but the response from the outraged South was so foul, filthy, backwards, racist. Disgusting and shocking even now to read....

9. He continued his heavy workload at the Tuskegee Institute. 

10.  Booker T. Washington lies buried there, since his death, Nov 14, 1915, when he was only 59.

11. A visit to Tuskegee University is well worth the visit: There's a handsome museum/ National Historic Site there, detailing the work of Booker T. Washington and his employee/sometime nemesis Geo. Wash. Carver.

12. There is also, in Franklin Co., VA, the Booker T. Washington National Monument.

BLACK HISTORY MONTH No. 9: 12 Things to Know About W.E.B. Du Bois

"One ever feels his twoness – 
an American, a Negro; 
two souls, two thoughts, 
two unreconciled strivings; 
two warring ideals in one dark body, 
whose dogged strength alone 
keeps it from being torn asunder."

"To be a poor man is hard, 
but to be a poor race in a land of dollars 
is the very bottom of hardships...
"But what of black women?
...I most sincerely doubt 
if any other race of women 
could have brought its fineness 
up through so devilish a fire." 

W.E.B. Du Bois 1868 ~ 1963

1. The initials in his name stood for William Edward Burghardt and his last name (derived from the French language) is pronounced Du Boyz.

2. He came into the world at the time/space intersection 23 Feb 1868/Great Barrington, Massachusetts.

3. Behind that wonderful, thoughtful face, pictured here was a brilliant mind. William's friends, fellow church members, and neighbors recognized that early on. In fact they pooled their resources to help him go to college, to Fisk University, in Nashville, TN.  It was created after the Civil War, as a school for African Americans, and by the time Wm. went there in the 1880s, Fisk was famous all around the world, thanks to its far-traveling Jubilee Singers. 

 I don't know that I even want to think about what it must have been like for this gifted young Bay Stater traveling southward and experiencing the  deeply wounded, still recovering, furiously racist South. Color barriers. the Klan. Jim Crow. Etc, etc. 

Dr. Du Bois
4. W.E.B.DuB. continued his studies in social sciences at Harvard, eventually becoming, in fact, the FIRST African American to earn a  Ph.D. there (in 1895). He studied in Berlin, Germany, too.  Toward the end of the 19th century, at just about the time that Geo. Wash. Carver was making his way from Iowa University to his professorship at Booker T. Washington's   Tuskegee Institute, Dr. Du Bois became a history and economics professor at Atlanta University.  

 And you know what else; Dr. Du Bois created and published The Philadelphia Negro, a sociological study, a serious work of scholarship about a group of black folks living there.

Booker T. Washington

5. At the beginning of the 20th Century, two of the strongest African American voices were those of Booker T. Washington of Tuskegee and Dr. W.E.B. Du Bois.  As to perceptions of their people and as to the poverty and seemingly bottomless bigotry facing their race, these two powerful men were in deep disagreement.

6. Booker T. W., who was 8 yrs. older than Dr. Du B., had come the hard way to a go along to get along acceptance of white supremacy It was a hard, but immovable fact. The best that blacks could do for themselves was keep their heads down and get whatever vocational training they could to get and stay hired. He'd come to national prominence  with an 1895 speech in which he said, in part, "The wisest of my race understand that the agitation of questions of social equality is the extremest folly."
The Founders:  Niagara Movement, 1905
7. Dr. Du B's response was his book The Souls of Black Folk.   Equal rights were to be fought for and leadership skills were to be taught and developed. Moreover, Du Bois and the other founders of the NIAGARA MOVEMENT declared that blacks 'should not submit to being humiliated, degraded, and remanded to an inferior place."

8.  In 1910, Dr. Du B. was in at the founding of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. 
And you know, "Colored" rather than "Black"  was Dr. Du B's idea, the idea that ALL dark-skinned people, all round the world, should work together to conquer the scourge of prejudice.
9.  As the new NAACP's Publicity and Research Director, W.E.B. Du Bois founded and edited the organization's successful and significant monthly journal, The CRISIS.   In its pages he spoke out against the continuing assaults, lynchings, riots, massacres, on African Americans, against the world wars, the old colonial empires...

10. Over the years Dr. Du Bois wrote book upon book (including, even, a romance), the chief of which, his magnum opus was considered to be his history, Black Reconstruction in America, 1860~1880.  

11.  And over the years, this cruel old world never ceased to offer outrage.

12. Dr. Du Bois, 95, was in Ghana, working on the ENCYCLOPEDIA AFRICANA, when his long life came to an end, on 27 Aug, 1963.  The very next day, a world away, thousands attending the March on Washington, stood silent upon hearing that the scholarly warrior for equality had passed away.

BLACK HISTORY MONTH No. 8: 12 Things to Know About Dorothy Height

"Without community service, 
we would not have a strong quality of life.  
It's important to the person who serves 
as well as the recipient.  
It's the way in which we ourselves 
grow and develop."

"Greatness is not measured by 
what a man or woman accomplishes,
but by the opposition he or she
has overcome to reach his goals."

Dorothy Irene Height  1912 ~2010

1.  About three weeks before the great ship Titanic went down, Dorothy Irene Height was born in Richmond, Virginia, the old capital city of the Confederacy, on 24 March, 1912.

2, But it wasn't long before her folks moved, so Dorothy grew up in Pennsylvania.  As a high school student, she entered a national contest, writing and speaking about the U.S. Constitution. Ms Height, the only African American contestant and won a 4-year college scholarship.

3.  17-yr-old Dorothy was accepted  at Barnard College, in 1929. Then turned away: they'd already accepted as many Negros as they had to that year.  imagine that

So she went to NY University.  She'd earn college degrees in social work and educational psychology.

4. For decades,  Miss Height employed these disciplines as an energetic and constant worker in organizations devoted to making civil and economic life more just. In a racist world where, generally speaking, women and girls still, as ever, get the short end of the stick, Ms. Height had her work cut out for her.  Against lynching and AIDS. For universal suffrage and reproductive freedom. Softening the burdens of poverty.

5. To that end, Ms. Height involved herself with the YWCA,  which got started in the latter 1800s, in England, as more and more young women were moving to London and other big cities to work in factories.

Mary McLeod Bethune
6.  And the National Council of Negro Women, founded by the great leader and educator, Mary McLeod Bethune.  

7.  In Mrs. Bethune, Ms. Height found a valuable mentor.

8. Dorothy Height served as president of the Nat'l Council of Negro Women for 40 years, from 1957 until 1997.  As such, she advised U.S. Presidents.

9. Of the key individuals who brought about the March on Washington in August 1963, only Dorothy Height was NOT asked to speak.  "I didn't feel I should elbow myself to the front when the press was focused on the male leaders."  After all, as Ms. Height would often say, it wasn't a question of personal limelight but collective struggle.  

10.  For her life time of service to her country, Dorothy Height was given 3 dozen honorary doctoral degrees (AND an honorary degree from Barnard, 75 yrs. after they closed the door on her)  AND her nation's two highest civilian awards.  In 1994, President Bill Clinton awarded Ms. Height the Presidential Medal of Freedom.
Ten years later, President Geo. W. Bush awarded her the Congressional Gold Medal 

11. Apart from all else, Ms. Height was a lady of glorious hats.   Note this treasure of a VIDEO:  in which Ms. Height wore a very nice one at the White House, recounting to President Barack Obama her memories of young Martin Luther King. 

12. Ms. Height passed away 20 April 2010. Her obituary in the NY Times was one of MANY tributes to this great American.

Thursday, February 7, 2013

BLACK HISTORY MONTH No. 7: 12 Things to Know About Frederick Douglass

So, apart from the fact that - I mean, what sort of a cockamamie black history month deal would NOT include Frederick Douglass?  On the other hand, it seems kind of rotten to have him and these other complex individuals relegated to 1/12th of the year.  Frederick Douglass is just one heck of a fierce American.  Courageous. Ferocious. And oh my gosh, what a FACE!

"It is easier to build strong children 
than to repair broken men." 

"If there is no struggle,
there is no progress." 

I love this one:
"We have to do with the past 
only as we can make it useful 
to the present and the future." 

1.  He never knew his dad, a white man, and his mom, from whom he was early on taken away, died when he was a boy.  He came into the world in Maryland, around 1818, but no one knows for sure exactly when.

2. Yikes, I should have posted this next week!  Frederick chose Valentine's Day as his birthday.

3.  Originally, he was named Frederick Augustus Washington Bailey. 

4. Though doing so was against the law– and against the wishes of her husband: after all, an educated slave might become unhappy about being enslaved –  the wife of one of his white masters taught him his letters and young Frederick scavenged education from white kids, anywhere he could get it.  He practiced reading, newspapers, signs, anything he could find. Then he did his best to teach others.  Until angry, club-wielding white folks broke up his classes.

5. One of his masters, Edward Covey, was known as a "slave-breaker," one who'd beat and torment the spirit out of a slave.    16-year-old Frederick fought back, so much and so well, that Mr. Covey never beat him again.  

Anna Murray Douglass
      "I felt as one might feel upon escape from a den of hungry lions." 
6. On his 3rd attempt, 20-yr-old Frederick escaped. Stole himself away. In 1838.  With the help of his future wife Anna Murray.  Their marriage, which began on 15 Sept 1838, lasted 44 years.

7. In his anti-slavery speeches, he spoke so well, people wondered if he'd really been a slave.  So, he wrote his 1845 bestseller, his  Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass.  

8. Then he left the country.  Went on a 2 year speaking tour of Ireland and England.  Because, really, there's nothing like an escaped slave writing a popular, incendiary autobio to attract the attention of his legal owner.   But you know what happened?  Frederick's fans in Great Britain passed the hat, came up w/ the money for his freedom.

9. Back in the U.S.A. in 1847, F.D. began an antislavery newspaper.  AND, he showed up at Seneca Falls, NY, at the very FIRST Women's Rights Convention.  In the years to come, F.D. would speak often about women's civil rights.  
When Amendment XV to the U.S. Constitution was ratified in 1870, African American men were allowed to vote.  Women, black or white, would have to wait another 50 years. 

10. For the rest of his life Frederick Douglass wrote newspaper articles, books, speeches. He campaigned for social justice, equal education.  With Ida B. Wells, he campaigned against the vile, nasty practice of lynching. 

Cedar Hill
Helen Pitts Douglass
11.  Is there a Frederick Douglass National Historic Site? Why yes!  Frederick and Anna bought Cedar Hill in southeastern D.C., in 1877.  Five years later, Anna died.  then, in 1884, F.D. remarried. His 2nd wife was sufragist Helen Pitts.   

"This proves I am impartial," F.D. said, laughingly, "My first wife was the color of my mother and the second the color of my father."

12.  The old lion died 11 years later, of a massive heart attack. 

“Those who profess to favor freedom and yet depreciate agitation, are people who want crops without ploughing the ground; they want rain without thunder and lightning; they want the ocean without the roar of its many waters. The struggle may be a moral one, or it may be a physical one, or it may be both. But it must be a struggle. Power concedes nothing without a demand. It never did and it never will.”

Black History Month No. 6: 12 Things to Know About FANNIE LOU HAMER

"I am sick and tired 
of being sick and tired."  

Fannie Lou Townsend Hamer 1917 ~ 1977 


1.  Fannie Lou, her 14 brothers, and 5 sisters were the children of Jim and Lou Ella Townsend,  They lived in Montgomery Co. Mississippi.

2. They were sharecroppers, meaning they all worked very hard out in the fields, farming land they didn't own in return for part of the crop.  "Life was worse than hard.  It was horrible!  We never did have enough to eat." 

3. Fannie Lou's folks worked and saved enough to own three mules and a pair of cows. A white neighbor poisoned all five animals.  The Townsends lived in a time and place where most white folks were dead set against black folks getting ahead.  

4. Fannie Lou Townsend and Perry "Pap" Hamer in 1944. 

5. Eventually they would adopt four daughters.

6. Throughout what had been the Old South/slave economy, there were loads of obstacles such as an expensive "poll tax" and/or an impossible written test, designed to keep African Americans from voting. You could get in serious trouble for even registering to vote. Nonetheless, in August 1962, Mrs. Hamer went to a church meeting. The topic?  Civil Rights. 

7. As I wrote of Mrs. Hamer in my book Rabble Rousers,   "Fannie Lou had never known she could vote. Now that she did, nothing was going to stop her. Either she'd be killed fast, she figured, or a little at a time, as she had been all her life."    
      Fannie Lou Hamer became part of a valiant generation who were determined to protest and fight to win their legitimate right to vote.

8. So what happened? She and her husband were fired and evicted.  Fannie Lou Hamer was shot at, jailed, and the police nearly beat her to death. 
 Still, she continued to raise her voice in protest.  
Going to meeting after meeting. Organizing Mississippi's Freedom Summer voter registration campaign of 1964

9. Not only was Mrs. Hamer a passionate speaker, she heartened and encouraged her fellow protestors with her singing.  You can hear her HERE. 

10.  Mrs. Hamer lost the election when she ran for the U.S. Congress in 1964.  As a member of the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party, Mrs. Hamer was asked to speak to her fellow Dems at the 1964 Convention. You can hear her powerful testimony right HERE. 

11. Four years later, she was a part of her state's delegation to the Dems' troubled, raucous national convention of 1968. All along, Fannie Lou Hamer spoke out against the war in Viet Nam. She championed early childhood education.  She was active in Dr. Martin Luther King's Poor People's Campaign. again

12. Fannie Lou Hamer died March 14, 1977.  
Why should you know about Mrs. Hamer?  Because when it would have been so easy to just let things go on as they had been going on, she saw that the old way needed changing and risked EVERYTHING to change them.